Obituary: Winebox inquiry head Sir Ronald Davison left major legacy of court system changes

Sir Ronald Davison died at his Auckland home aged 94.

Sir Ronald Keith Davison GBE, CMG, QC and a former chief justice made a “significant contribution to law and justice system reforms,” Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson says in a tribute.

Sir Ronald died at his Auckland home on July 2, aged 94. He was born on November 16, 1920, at Kaponga, Taranaki.

He had a distinguished career as a barrister, which was recognised when he was made Queen’s Counsel in 1963.

He was appointed to the judiciary and in the 1975 Queen’s Birthday Honours was made a Companion to the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG).

He was knighted as Knight Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GBE) just after his appointment as chief justice on February 3, 1978.

He retired in February 1989 and went on to head a number of inquiries.

The most important of these was the Commission of Inquiry into Certain Matters relating to Taxation (also referred to as the Winebox Inquiry).

This involved allegations against a number of parties including the merchant bank Fay, Richwhite.

He also presided over a 1994 inquiry into Family Court proceedings involving the Bristol family that resulted in a number of changes being made to child protection legislation.  

“I appeared before Sir Ronald many times and will always remember his thoughtfulness and courtesy,” Mr Finlayson says.

In her tribute, Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias said Sir Ronald was one of the last remaining members of the New Zealand judiciary who had served in World War II.

“Perhaps this background influenced his strongly held belief in the importance of protecting the legal rights of individuals and minority groups, and that the judiciary must strive to remain in tune with responsible public opinion,” she said.

Dame Sian said changes introduced during Sir Ronald’s tenure as chief justice included the renaming of the Supreme Court as the High Court, magistrates' courts becoming district courts and the introduction of new High Court rules and court management systems.

“The years when he was chief justice marked a period of active change to New Zealand’s justice system, and indeed helped bring it into the modern era,” she said.

“Sir Ronald’s contribution to the New Zealand legal landscape was immense and his legacy continues to be experienced by anyone coming into contact with today’s court processes.”

Sir Ronald married Jacqueline May Carr in 1948 and they had three children.

One of them, Paul Davison QC, is a leading barrister who, among many other trials, prosecuted Scott Watson for the murders of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope in the Marlborough Sounds on January 1, 1998.

Sir Ronald’s funeral will be held at St Mary's in Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parnell, Auckland, on Wednesday, July 8, at 1.30pm to be followed by a private cremation.